Name: Dwaine Rieves
Book Title: SHIRTLESS MEN DRINK FREE
Genre: Literary fiction
Publisher: Leapfolio, a joint venture of Tupelo Press
Thank you for your time in answering our questions about getting published. Let’s begin by having you explain to us why you decided to become an author and pen this book?
I began writing Shirtless Men Drink Free about twelve years ago. The novel began as an exercise (challenge is probably a more realistic word!) in writing a long narrative that had poetry as its backbone. Had I know it would have taken twelve years, I’m not sure I would have signed on with the cast of characters. But the adventure is done, and I believe the novel accomplishes what the colorful, poetic folks in 2004 Atlanta would have wanted—a story of their lives and after-lives on the record. I tell people the book is about “souls and the bodies that won’t let them go,” a summary that largely reflects the lyrical bent of the novel. More precisely, the novel explores how the death of our parents impact our seemingly fully-developed adult lives.
Is this your first book?
This is my first novel. I have a collection, When the Eye Forms, that won the 2005 Tupelo Press Prize in Poetry. I was delighted when Leapfolio, a joint venture of Tupelo Press, volunteered to help make Shirtless Men Drink Free a tangible book—both in print and ebook format. The folks at Tupelo Press have a solid track record in gorgeous book production, so I jumped at the chance to have their expertise in crafting the novel’s presentation to the world.
With this particular book, how did you publish – traditional, small press, Indie, etc. – and why did you choose this method?
Leapfolio is a form of a hybrid press—a creature I had never heard of until Jeffrey Levine at Tupelo Press introduced me to the model. In this paradigm, the press and the author invest time, sweat and finances into the book’s production. I particularly like the model because Leapfolio allowed me to make the final sign-off on all aspects of the book’s production. I have a friend who recently had a novel published by a large, traditional publisher, and I was surprised to hear of how little control the author had over the book’s presentation. Perhaps I’m a control freak! But after working twelve years on a novel, I sure wanted the final presentation to align with story itself.
Can you tell us a little about your publishing journey? The pros and cons?
What a story to tell! At the completion of the novel’s final working draft, I queried over 200 agents. The vast majority never responded. Probably a dozen responded, and six requested the full manuscript. The feedback I received from these six agents was consistent—“Dwaine, the writing is great and the story compelling; but it will be hard to sell this work. The market is so tough now, unless you have a connection, a track record or fit clearly into a market niche, the big houses are just not going to take you on. This work is just too creative, too edgy. Sorry.”
Indeed, one well-known agent called to apologize for not being able to take on the novel because: “You just can’t write like this initially. You have to have a track record of more accessible, popular novels. Then, you might be able to go experimental with a traditional publisher.”
I have heard many versions of “sorry.” Being a poet, I guess I’m used to rejection. Too, I knew Shirtless Men Drink Free, would never be an “easy sell.” It wasn’t supposed to be “easy.” The novel makes no apology for its soul, which is not an easy commodity for the market.
What lessons do you feel you learned about your particular publishing journey and about the publishing industry as a whole?
I’ve learned that the artist’s journey is a difficult one and one the artist must anticipate, if not welcome. Perhaps a challenge the artist can’t live without. I’m very pleased with the difficulty of this process—it has made the work and me better.
In terms of producing another novel, I really like the hybrid model because it can leave the artist in control, the artwork becoming what it is supposed to be—all the time with an expert advisor looking over your shoulder.
My experience in the world of book publicity/marketing/traditional big-box book selling is not favorable. It reminds me of car marketing—heavy on hype and conveyor belt assembly.
Would you recommend this method of publishing to other authors?
Yes, indeed. I think a hybrid-printing model, where the author works with a well-experienced production team, can be a very satisfying experience for an author, especially an author whose work may not so readily fit into the typical commercial genres. I have no experience with solely self-publishing or traditional, big-box publishing, so I’m at a loss to make firsthand comparisons. I have heard much about the traditional publishing route—and what I’ve heard and read is not so favorable, at least in terms of cultivating the soul of the author and her art.
What’s the best advice you can give to aspiring authors?
I think it is important to allow yourself the great freedom of expression, by which I mean freedom in genre and the soul’s laboratory. For example, that expression could take the form of poetry, fiction, non-fiction, film, photography, music—the list of creative arts is obviously endless. Sometimes I think the soul craves, above all, expression—realization.
So my advice is first to discover what inspires you, what drives you—and then step behind that steering wheel of inspiration. And persevere. Above all, persevere! Look for editors, readers, critics, supporters, detractors—anyone who you think can help. Even if it hurts. Even if they hurt. After all, without hurt there would be no need for art itself.
About the book:
In Shirtless Men Drink Free, Doctor Jane Beekman has seen her dying mother’s soul, a vision above the bed—a soul struggling with a decision, some undone task, something in this world too noble to leave. The question that lingers—why?—prompts a shift in the doctor’s priorities. In this election year, Jane must do what her mother, an aspiring social activist, would have done. Soon, Jane is embroiled in the world of Georgia politics, working to make sure her dynamic younger brother-in-law Jackson Beekman is elected the next governor, regardless of what the soul of the candidate’s dead father or that of his living brother—Jane’s husband—might want done.
Indeed, it is a mother’s persistence and a father’s legacy that will ultimately turn one Beekman brother against the other, launching a struggle with moral consequences that may extend far beyond Georgia. Set amidst 2004’s polarizing election fears—immigrants and job take-overs, terrorists in waiting, homosexuals and outsider agendas—Shirtless Men Drink Free makes vivid the human soul’s struggle in a world bedeviled by desire and the fears that leave us all asking—Why?
Engaging, beautifully written and resplendent with realism, Shirtless Men Drink Free is a standout debut destined to stay with readers long after the final page is turned. A meticulously crafted tale that showcases an outstanding new voice in Southern fiction, Shirtless Men Drink Free has garnered high advance praise:
“This is brilliant and rare work, as attentive to an absorbing plot as it is to a poetic, chiseled cadence."—Paul Lisicky, award-winning author of The Narrow Door: A Memoir of Friendship
“These characters are all too real. Rieves, as Faulkner, McMurtry and Larry Brown, writes people and story that will worm, burrow into you. Change you even.” —Adam Van Winkle, Founder and Editor, Cowboy Jamboree
“Vividly sensuous, this novel is full of textures, sounds and smells. Rieves tells a terrific story with the sensitivity of a poet.” —Margaret Meyers, author of Swimming in the Congo
Published by Tupelo Press joint venture partner Leapfolio, Shirtless Men Drink Free will be published in trade paper (ISBN: 978-1-946507-04-4, 326 pages, $16.95) and eBook editions. The novel will be available where fine books are sold, with an arrival on January 22, 2019.